Supersol Gets Spooky Online

by Brian on March 25, 2013

in In the News,Only in Israel

Supersol logoI hate grocery shopping in Israel. I might hate it in the Old Country too, but I don’t remember it so well. But here, I have no problem recalling my recoil. The aisles are too narrow, the lines are ridiculously long and slow, the store (in winter) has no heating, and whoever heard of a bag boy (or girl).

That’s why I’m delighted that my wife Jody actually likes going shopping. She’s got it down to a science. She can do an entire week’s shop at once. She’s made a computer list in Microsoft Excel that includes every product we usually buy in the order in which they appearwhen doing a clockwise spin through our local Supersol Deal. If they move products around, Jody even adjusts the spreadsheet.

But every once in a while, if Jody is sick or out of town on shopping day, the job falls on me. And what Jody can do in an hour takes me two…or three. I always pick the wrong checkout counter, the one with the “I was here” person sneaking back in at the last moment, and the clerk who is either too talkative, too glum, or both at once.

But that’s all changed now. Supersol recently released a new version of its e-shopping website and this time, they’ve got it right. Mostly.

The site, which is being heavily promoted in the Hebrew press (and even in the English media in Israel, although with an ad all in Hebrew – go figure) lists every product in the store, neatly arranged according to category, with a special section for “deals.” If a product is out of stock, that’s indicated. You can choose a delivery time for the same day or a date in the future and, so far in our experience, Supersol has kept to it (they come in two-hour slots).

The website goes one step further, which will either delight you in its efficiency or horrify you in its sheer Big Brother-ness. When Jody first logged on, it asked for her credit card. The site then pre-populated its virtual shopping cart with all of the items Jody regularly buys.

Now, it’s no secret that e-commerce sites track what you buy – and that’s usually very helpful. If you want to view one of your past orders at Amazon, it’s right there. But there’s something spooky about discovering that a real world cash register is logging your purchases too, especially when that data migrates from one form to another (i.e., the printed receipt to your online basket).

Yes, it saved Jody a lot of time not having to go and re-select items she regularly buys. But you have to then wonder: what else does the supermarket know about you? Is it correlating your purchases with other demographic data in order to offer you deals you don’t need but won’t be able to refuse? Could it, if not now but perhaps some time in the future, track your estimated family calorie intake and deliver that to your HMO’s online system to deliver dietician recommendations?

The truth is, I’ve long since given up expecting privacy online. I try to keep my Facebook posts non-controversial, although last year’s photo of me in a dress for Purim might get me in hot water with a potential new client if taken out of context (I make a point of not friending clients, for that very reason).

Beyond the privacy issue, there’s another – even greater concern – with shopping online and it’s the exact opposite of the computer: it’s the people. No matter how careful you are making your list on the Supersol website, someone is still going through a physical store and picking products off an actual shelf. They’re not the highest paid employees and so sometimes they make mistakes. Actually, so far, every time.

In one case, it was no big deal: they delivered the wrong flavored yogurts. But the second time was more annoying: Jody ordered organic chicken but got ordinary cluckers, but for the organic price.

To their credit, the store admitted the error and hand delivered the correct chicken to our home a few days later. But the problem isn’t going to go away. It’s not like an operating system that over time learns your preferences and gets better. Minimum wage employees will always mess up. There’s just not enough incentive.

The question is: at what point does the annoyance outweigh the benefit. There are a number of tests around the world involving cars that drive themselves, for example. And they’re pretty accurate for the most part. But all there needs to be is one fatal accident and the entire endeavor will fail. No one will give up control when their life may depend on it.

Getting non-organic chicken isn’t in the same category, of course. But will online grocery shoppers waive perfect delivery for the convenience of ordering in their pajamas? Is there a magic balance point?

For Jody, the answer is she’ll probably keep going to the physical store. Remember, she likes it there. I, on the other hand, would probably eat that antibiotic-filled chicken and drink the peached-flavored yogurt instead of the vanilla we really wanted, in order to avoid stepping into that dreadful store.

How about you? Where’s your breaking point? Does this sound like a technology you’re ready to embrace? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

This article appeared originally on Israelity.

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